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Oedipus Rex and Hamlet: Compare and Contrast

Oedipus Rex and Hamlet are prominent literary characters who constitute the example of brave men under challenging circumstances, they experience tragic events in their lives concerning their family members, which eventually leads to their fall. Oedipus is the man whose life is in the hands of fate, he murders his father and marries his mother, fulfilling the prophecy his parents were told when he was born. Once he becomes the king of Thebes, he demonstrates his qualities of a wise leader, but the desire to learn the truth brings him to a tragic end. Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark whose deceased father, former king, asks to avenge him by killing Claudius, the new king and Hamlet’s uncle. Throughout the course of the play, Hamlet is tormented by his thoughts, which indicates his philosophical nature. Deeply affected by the events, he pretends to be insane to learn the truth and eventually carries out his father’s will but by sacrificing his life. Despite the fact that both characters show extreme resilience in helping others and seeking the truth, Hamlet demonstrates a greater degree of it in the final scene.

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The first criterion that shows the characters’ resilience and based on which Oedipus and Hamlet can be compared is their common readiness to help others. After several years since the death of Oedipus’s father, Thebes is plagued by a pestilence that has brought infertility to everything, from plants to people. Oedipus decides to deliver his kingdom the misfortune and says, “Hath man yet compassed, as, with all he can, Of chance or power, to help his fellow man” (Sophocles 18) Thus, he demonstrates his willingness to act for the greater good of other people, despite the fact that the plague is overpowering and pervasive, Oedipus sends his uncle to the Oracle asking for his advice. He is resilient in this decision, even though he could easily not get involved, he chooses to solve people’s problems.

Hamlet is also altruistic in his intentions and ready to help others, which is evident from the decision he makes after meeting the ghost of his father that asks him to kill Claudius. Talking to Horatio about the new king, he asks him a rhetorical question, “And with such cozenage—is’t not perfect conscience, to quit him with this arm?” (Shakespeare 5.2). It is clear that he is not asking for his friend’s opinion, instead, this phrase shows his determination to kill Claudius and resilience in conducting what his father asked him to do. Hamlet could neglect the words of the late king and pretend that he did not see the ghost, but instead, he listens to what he has to say and intends to help him.

The second criterion that indicates the strong resilience of the characters is their intention to know the absolute truth that is often hidden away from them by others. When Oedipus is told that to end the pestilence, the murderer of his father must be found, he turns to Tiresias, a blind prophet, who, nevertheless, does not want to reveal the real killer. Oedipus is enraged, saying, “What wilt thou? Know and speak not? In my need Be false to me, and let thy city bleed?” (Sophocles 19). Referencing the ravaged city, he once again demonstrates his determination to help others, but, moreover, he is resilient in the desire to learn the truth about the man who inflicted this plague on the city. Tiresias eventually tells him that it was Oedipus himself who killed his father, thus, his resilience to know the truth brings him misery.

Hamlet is also devoted to learning who killed his father, when he first meets his father’s ghost, he decides to test his allegations by staging a play to understand whether Claudius is the murderer. Left alone with his thoughts, he soliloquies, “I’ll have these players Play something like the murder of my father Before mine uncle. I’ll observe his looks” (Shakespeare 2.2). He does not rush into fights immediately after hearing the ghost’s words, instead, he is acting carefully in order to see if they are justified, which shows his resilience to seek the proofs. He acts reasonably and methodically, which characterizes him as a thoughtful person, who cannot be governed by mere feelings of injustice, he has to learn the truth himself.

The aforementioned examples portrayed both Oedipus and Hamlet as resilient men in certain situations, yet the most important criterion must be the characters’ behavior during the final scenes. In the course of the play, Oedipus demonstrates his remarkable qualities, although at the moment when he finally learns that he killed his father and had children with his own mother, he buckles under pressure. He no longer has his strength and blinds himself, saying, “I am a thing of God abhorred” (Sophocles 86). Oedipus repents his existence and is unable to deal with the news, all his powerful qualities of character are gone, and he decides to leave his house. It is hard to imagine what would the right decision be for Oedipus to make in such circumstances, yet it is evident that he stops being resilient and becomes a victim of fate.

Meanwhile, the final scene of Hamlet demonstrates that the main character is strong in his resilience until the end and devoted to his task while on his deathbed. Even slain by a poisoned blade, he manages to kill Claudius, thus, avenging his father, he says, “Here, thou incestuous, murderous, damned Dane, Drink off this potion.” (Shakespeare 5.2). This scene is powerful in its depiction of Hamlet’s actions, knowing that he will die soon, he, nevertheless, rushes to his uncle and takes his life. Thus, Hamlet proves that once he makes his decision, he delivers on it, which is a sign of a man who firmly adheres to his principles, unwilling to stop under any circumstances.

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Oedipus and Hamlet will forever be among the most notable literary characters, whose great feats inspire readers and make them think about the vastitudes of life. Both of them show outstanding resilience in their desire to help others and disclose the truth that is hidden. Oedipus seeks to deliver his fellow men from pestilence, while Hamlet wants to avenge the deceased king. Both of them try to learn about the real murderers of their fathers, yet their stories have different endings. Nevertheless, Hamlet keeps his strong will till his last breath and completes his task, while Oedipus becomes unable to deal with the difficult situation and decides to escape it by blinding himself. Thus, despite being younger and a mere prince, Hamlet demonstrates that he deserves to be recognized as the one who is more resilient.

References

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Project Gutenberg, 1998. Web.

Sophocles. Oedipus King of Thebes. Project Gutenberg, 2008. Web.

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StudyCorgi. "Oedipus Rex and Hamlet: Compare and Contrast." April 1, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/oedipus-rex-and-hamlet-compare-and-contrast/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Oedipus Rex and Hamlet: Compare and Contrast." April 1, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/oedipus-rex-and-hamlet-compare-and-contrast/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'Oedipus Rex and Hamlet: Compare and Contrast'. 1 April.

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